In the first part of our series, I gave a fried overview of Disney World, Dollywood, and Hershey Park.
Today is a more in depth look at the entry method, fastpass type services, and staffing along with maps. Maps? Yep. Trust me on this. It's needed info.
The differences between Disney, Dollywood, and Hershey Park are pretty tremendous. At Disney, we are used to the security. You'll often have your bag checked, especially if you've left your phone, camera, or an umbrella in it. You'll also find security walking all around. That wasn't the case at Dollywood or Hershey Park. You walked through the metal detector and off you went. I wasn't the only one confused. While there was a very short section for them to check bags, I didn't see anyone's bags being checked at Dollywood or Hershey Park. Was this due to lack of staff or lack of concern? I wasn't sure.
Once entering, all three parks have guest services and ticket windows right near by. Perfect for standby tickets or questions. This part was the same.
Fastpass Type Services
Each park has a type of Fastpass system, though the name varies. While as of this moment, Disney World's is temporarily suspended, my favorite thing has always been getting those passes included in the cost of my ticket. I've always known at least I get to skip the line on three rides, more if I was coordinated and took advantage of leftover passes that day.
Dollywood has a paid service with two options. And it sounds a bit like what Disney Paris is going to be doing. Dollywood has Timesaver and Timesaver Unlimited. Timesaver gets to skip the line 8 times on chosen rides. Unlimited means any time, all day, any ride that accepts the pass. Prices are hefty though! $49 and $64, pre tax. Just like at Disney, some shows can even be reserved with this pass. While there, I didn't feel like it wold be of benifit for our family. Really, the rides were not long unless you wanted a coaster.
Hershey Park uses something called Fast Track, and like Dollywood there are two options, one standard and one unlimited. However, the price, much steeper, also varies as to what day you go. Prices start at $49-130 for Fast Track, and $50-180 for Fast Track Unlimited. Is it needed? Not really, again unless you just want the coasters, or the only one family ride that's Disneyesque, called Cupfusion. That ride had a very slow load time because there were very few ride vehicles. Almost every other ride was near walk on, in July.
While it might not be totally fair to compare staffing as there is an obvious shortage, Disney by far still has the most staff. Dollywood, the second most but even still they struggled. At Hershey Park I counted one extremely young security officer, and one extremely old one. IF you had a question? Out of luck! There was no one to ask at Hershey Park. In fact, almost every single ride was operated by one person, and of an incredibly young age. Most of the employees were high schoolers. They were working their hardest, but it was very strange. It was similar at Dollywood, and imagine my surprise when the young man, likely just a year older than my oldest, said, "let me get my supervisor," and there, if the other kid was a year older than him I'd be surprised, he was. All polite, but severely understaffed and young. So be kind to these kids trying to make sure you have a great trip.
The contract was quite severe to Disney, because even now, Disney is staffed, less, yes, but still well staffed. Help is there when you need it, and only adults are operating the ride you or your child is riding.
Maps? Yep. Disney still has paper maps. Dollywood still has paper maps. Hershey Park? No maps. There were a few maps that were in the park and you can use your phone, but it's so, so hard to pull up everything on your phone and look for what you might want to go on. I'll talk more about the app next time!
So who is in the lead?
So far, Disney wins on staffing. Disney and Dollywood are tied on maps. While I enjoy walking in through security without really being checked...it also makes me a bit nervous. Point for Disney. Fastpass type system? Yeah...I don't want to pay that much extra for my family. Disney wins this too.
But what about the rides, games and the apps? Actually...there were some great things at Dollywood and Hershey Park... Coming soon, we'll talk more about that!
While the continuation of our multipart series on Who would win: Disney World, Dollywood, or Hershey Park is on the way, I wanted to stop and share what's been keeping me so busy.
My book is finally finished, edited, beta read, reedited, formatted, and artwork completed. It's my hope that this book has something for everyone.
The book is split into two parts. The first half is for those who need dietary considerations at Disney World. Anyone who might need to know ahead of time what to ask, how to order, what to watch out for.
The second half are those tips and tricks for saving you wish were all in one place along with a lot of practical advice.
This book was designed to be easy to slip into your bag for vacation, or passed around before hand. It's NOT overwhelming! It's actually going to be the thing that lets you enjoy your vacation with a minimum of stress.
I'd love to hear what you think if you buy my book. Reviews are always appreciated, so that small books like this, have a chance to show up in Amazon's algorithm, to help those who need it to find it.
Want to buy a copy? Click here or the picture at the top!
Thank you for your support over the years! There will be a special giveaway coming soon to promote my new book!
I was recently challenged to talk about and VISIT a theme park other than Disney. I'm a Disney girl at heart, but I'm also realistic. I know there are other places out there, and some that supposedly rival Disney World. Everyone talks about Universal, but who ever talks about the "Disney of the Smokies", Dollywood or Hershey Park? I chose those two because they are closer to me but also for another important reason...
Walt Disney, Dolly Parton, and Milton Hershey each came from humble beginnings, followed their dreams, and never, never took no for an answer.
I accepted the challenge, so get read for a 5 part series on the differences between Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Dollywood, and Hershey Park.
Part 1 (You are here!) is an overview of each park.
Part 2 Entry methods, fast passes, staff and maps
Part 3 (Coming soon) The Rides
Part 4 (Coming soon) The Food
Part 5 (Coming soon) A Comparison between the three for an overall opinion
So far, I'm not sure what I think. I've had questions but been unable to get hold of ANYONE by phone or email at Dollywood, and I've been trying for months. Hershey? Uhoh...they are 5 star and about to rival Disney in every way, if not exceed. I'm a little nervous guys! Could they be better than Disney? And their app? Tells this allergy mama EVERY INGREDIENT! in EVERYTHING! Who does that?
Let's start first, with the familiar.
To be fair, Disney World is HUGE. I mean, there's over 200 places to eat there! So how would it be fair to compare such a large park to two smaller ones? It wouldn't, so I am choosing Magic Kingdom and Magic Kingdom only for comparison's sake.
Magic Kingdom was opened in 1971, almost 5 years after Walt Disney died. It's true, he never got to see the final product of his amazing imagination, and Disneyland die hards will say their park is the only true on because Walt walked there, but he walked in Orlando, Florida too! Just not when the park was open.
With themed areas of the park, lots of rides, food and attractions, this is the perfect park to compare with, those it is the largest of the three mentioned.
An interesting fact is Dollywood wasn't Dollywood until 1986, when Dolly expressed interesting in buying the theme park. Before that, it was named Silver Dollar City. Before that, it was Goldrush Junction, and before that Rebel Railroad!
In addition to the standard theme park rides and food, Dollywood also features the music and grafts of the Smokie Mountains. Nestled in Pigeon Forge, TN, this theme park is, just like Magic Kingdom, split into different themed areas of the park. There are both "quick service" style and "table service" places to eat, and an official resort.
One thing that's really amazing, is that Hershey Park was actually created not for the public, but for his employees to enjoy. This is also the oldest of the three parks, Hershey Park opened in 1906!
Boasting it's own resorts, Hershey Park has one interesting thing the other parks don't offer! A fantastic, and FREE ride showing how chocolate bars are made, from the field to the wrapper. You'll also find them passing out free samples! Hershey also offers Twizzlers for those who cannot have regular candies.
If you are wondering if it's safe to take a nut or dairy allergic child to Hershey Park, the answer might surprise you. They take food allergies incredibly seriously and are a top allergy family destination!
So how do we pick a winner? Over the next several posts, we'll be comparing the parks, everything from food and fastpass systems to customer service, rides, overall feel of value. Each of these parks is similar in the fact they each own resorts, are popular travel destinations, allow you to learn more about the park creator, have special foods and events, and even share similar rides.
Get ready...I'm not sure who is going to come out on top...
What If There’s a Problem With Your Food?
Important note here! Mistakes happen and as much as we would like to hope and think that a mistake shouldn't happen or won't happen, it might. It's always important to double-check your food as you're taking it or when it comes to your table at a table service or you are walking away from a quick service.
Sometimes sauces are added that aren't safe for you if you have an allergy even if you requested something plain. Or it could be that your kiddo won't eat ANYTHING that touched a piece of lettuce. Maybe someone grabbed the wrong tray and gave it to you. Lots of people place regular orders and allergy orders and the burger without mayo looks a lot like the burger with mayo, especially if they are sitting together.
Don't be shy about mentioning something. Disney cast members go above and beyond to take care of you but if a mistake does happen the goal is to make sure it is caught before you eat it, or before it's too late to fix the problem.
I think we've all been there, an item missing from your order, or the wrong side given. And far too often it's noticed when we've walked away, gotten home, etc. Disney is no different! If you stand and watch those kitchens, they are practically assembly line because they are working hard to fill orders, especially during peak meal hours.
The problem comes when you don’t mention that there was a problem with your order or that you didn’t feel comfortable with your server or chef. It’s rare, but it happens. The time to handle that is right then. Ask for the manager. Don’t sit there scared to eat, pay your bill, and leave. It’s much harder to fix a problem once you are no longer at the restraint or with the same staff.
If there’s a problem, ask for the manager. Explain what happened. It’s possible they will ask you how they can fix the situation. Be honest. If you’ve lost confidence that your meal can be made correctly, say so. If you’d like the manager to oversee the meal being made, say so. If you don’t think it’s fair you be charged for a meal you didn’t eat and have no intention of asking to be remade, let them know. They will do their best to make sure you have a good resolution. But it’s so much easier to have a positive outcome when you are there in person, not trying to explain the situation in an email or phone call the next day.
By that same note, what if someone goes above and beyond? It happens! It's time for a cast compliment!
The following is an abridged and unedited page from my upcoming book, Vacationing With Food Allergies at Disney. Though you might not have food allergies, there's still some very helpful planning information, because who doesn't get hurt at times on vacation?
Finding First Aid
Disney is well equipped to handle emergencies. Each of the theme parks also has a first aid station. What you’ll find there, is they are able to handle anything from rashes or chemical burns (like from a sunscreen your kid’s face didn’t like!) to headaches, those lovely pollen allergies Florida always seems to have, and just about any of the minor things you might need, including scrapes, sprains, and other injuries. Just don’t expect a Mickey bandaid! Sorry kids, they are plain flesh toned.
All first aid stations are staff by a nurse, be it a Nurse Practitioner, Physician Assistant or Licensed Practical Nurse, or some combination of the three, all working for the local hospital system. They are very helpful and caring. More than once we’ve been offered a quiet place to rest or even lie down if needed. And for various little things, we’ve been given a dose for now, a dose for later, or multiple little packets of cream.
Obviously, just because there IS a first aid station fully stocked does not mean you should leave your epipens at home. And, it’s likely you travel with a few meds too. If there’s something you need non urgently, your resort gift shop will likely sell it. We also tend to travel with quite a few first aid essentials, just because. Let’s be honest…it’s always something!
First Aid Essentials
Here’s what I usually put in my mini first aid kit.
I make a small sandwich sized Ziploc bag with a portable kit. A few advil, some bandaids, etc, just to throw in my park bag. I’ve used it more than once.
Last year it was drizzling and our shoes were a bit wet as we stood in line at Space Ranger Spin. There was a child swinging on the bars, maybe ten or so. She was almost my size, so when she slipped off the bars and fell right into me, her body filled with momentum, it literally knocked me over. Thankfully, I didn’t fall on my kids. However, I got a deep gash on my ankle from her shoe, watched as she started swinging into the opposite direction, completely unaware, and cleaned and covered my ankle before we got on the ride.
That mini kit really comes in handy for headaches from the heat, minor skinned knees, or the other little things that you don’t want to be bothered to get out of line for.
For the budget side, I like being able to reach for my own inexpensive products, instead of paying a few dollars for a dose of medicine at the giftshop, or a big bundle for a tube of anti itch cream.
What do you pack in your mini first aid kit?